The First Dreamer Foreshadowed The Life Of Joseph

The beginning of the world as told in the Jewish Bible is a remarkable story. It is a world that seemingly is infused both with the natural and super-natural, where God and man interact regularly: the world was built and then destroyed in a flood, save for Noah and his family, whom God directed to build an ark; Abraham pleads with God to save corrupt cities which are nevertheless pummeled with fire and brimstone.

In the middle of the physical interfacing between God and mankind as well as family drama, the Bible pauses for a few sentence to relay a mundane story. Jacob has a dream.

וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה׃ וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא׃ וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃ וְהִנֵּ֨ה יְהֹוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵאלֹהֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃…Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and messengers of God were going up and down on it. And standing beside him was יהוה, who said, “I am יהוה, the God of your father Abraham’s [house] and the God of Isaac’s [house]: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring… (Genesis 28: 10-13)

God had already directly given such promise to Abraham while he was awake. It is peculiar that God would choose an elaborate dream with angels on a ladder to convey the same message to Jacob in his sleep.

Jacob’s Ladder by Frans Francken II the Younger (1581-1642)

It is also a curiosity that people today are so fascinated by the story, even more than God talking directly to man. Perhaps it is because God no longer talks directly to people today, even as many of us dream, so we can relate to the story.

Or perhaps it is because Jacob’s dream is the foreshadowing of the life of the biggest character of Genesis, his son Joseph.

Three “Places”, Four Conditions

When the Bible writes about about Jacob’s dream, it repeats the Hebrew word מָּק֥וֹם three times in a single sentence, an oddity. While it can mean “place” it can also mean “God”. It is as though the narrator is telling us that something significant is about to happen, and it is location and God.

The dream is definitely dramatic. While the builders of the Tower of Babel tried to reach the heavens, Jacob actually got to “see” it. While man labored unsuccessfully for years to ascend, angels effortlessly went up and down.

And alongside the ladder was God himself. No one, not even his father and grandfather, had seem Him, but only heard His voice. Now Jacob had a new medium for his connection with God and he chose to concretize the event while awake.

וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֨ם יַעֲקֹ֜ב בַּבֹּ֗קֶר וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־הָאֶ֙בֶן֙ אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֣ם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֔יו וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֹתָ֖הּ מַצֵּבָ֑ה וַיִּצֹ֥ק שֶׁ֖מֶן עַל־רֹאשָֽׁהּ׃ וַיִּקְרָ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַה֖וּא בֵּֽית־אֵ֑ל וְאוּלָ֛ם ל֥וּז שֵׁם־הָעִ֖יר לָרִאשֹׁנָֽה׃ וַיִּדַּ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב נֶ֣דֶר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־יִהְיֶ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים עִמָּדִ֗י וּשְׁמָרַ֙נִי֙ בַּדֶּ֤רֶךְ הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָנֹכִ֣י הוֹלֵ֔ךְ וְנָֽתַן־לִ֥י לֶ֛חֶם לֶאֱכֹ֖ל וּבֶ֥גֶד לִלְבֹּֽשׁ׃ וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑י וְהָיָ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה לִ֖י לֵאלֹהִֽים׃…Early in the morning, Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He named that site Bethel; but previously the name of the city had been Luz. Jacob then made a vow, saying, “If God remains with me, protecting me on this journey that I am making, and giving me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return safe to my father’s house— יהוה shall be my God. And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, shall be God’s abode; and of all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You.”…(Genesis 28:18-21)

Jacob was awestruck by the event and anointed the rock-pillow he slept on during the dream, but then conditioned his faith in the real world. He asked God for four things to prove Himself before he would accept Him as his God, and then seemingly for God to truly establish his promise of the land for his inheritance.

These four requests set the tone for the remainder of Genesis.

Three Pairs of Dreams

Jacob, the first dreamer, would be followed by his son Joseph. While Jacob dreamed only once and doubted the veracity of what he saw, Joseph seemingly was confident about his two dreams.

Genesis 37:5-11 relays Joseph having a dream which he told his brothers about their sheaves bowing down to his, and then a second dream which he told his brothers and Jacob, of eleven stars, moon and sun bowing to him. While the brothers hated Joseph for the dream, Jacob considered it, as he knew about dreams himself but continued to be unsure whether to embrace a message told in such fashion.

וַיְקַנְאוּ־ב֖וֹ אֶחָ֑יו וְאָבִ֖יו שָׁמַ֥ר אֶת־הַדָּבָֽר׃ So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind. (Genesis 37:11)

The second pair of dreams (Genesis 40) happened in Egypt, as Joseph listened to the dreams of two fellow prisoners, a cupbearer and a baker. This time, Joseph interpreted their dreams which accurately predicted the fates of the two men.

The third pair of dreams happened to Pharaoh (Genesis 41), which Joseph was brought in to interpret. While they had not proven accurate, they rang true to Pharaoh who immediately sought to take action based on Joseph’s interpretation. This is the first time – after seven dreams told by the Bible – that anyone took dreams to be an omen that must be addressed immediately. Perhaps it was because Pharaoh viewed himself like a God who could take complementary action to God’s will. Either way, it was in sharp contrast to the first dream of Jacob in which he conditioned accepting God’s word.

Jacob’s Four Conditions

While Jacob asked God to stay with him and protect him from harm, it was Joseph who really faced numerous life-or-death situations, and survived. From his brothers trying to kill him, sell him into slavery and being cast into an Egyptian dungeon, God stayed with Joseph and protected him from the spiral of events that started from Joseph’s sharing his first pair of dreams.

Jacob’s second condition was about food. That foreshadowed the baker and winemaker who relayed the second pair of dreams in the prison cells of Egypt.

Jacob’s third condition was clothing. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and gave him a plan for addressing the famine that was to come, Pharaoh put him in charge of all the land of Egypt and dressed him in the finest fashion.

וַיָּ֨סַר פַּרְעֹ֤ה אֶת־טַבַּעְתּוֹ֙ מֵעַ֣ל יָד֔וֹ וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אֹתָ֖הּ עַל־יַ֣ד יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיַּלְבֵּ֤שׁ אֹתוֹ֙ בִּגְדֵי־שֵׁ֔שׁ וַיָּ֛שֶׂם רְבִ֥ד הַזָּהָ֖ב עַל־צַוָּארֽוֹ׃ And removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; and he had him dressed in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. (Genesis 41:42)

The three sets of dream correlate to Jacob’s first three conditions to internalizing God’s message in his dream. They represent a life for Jacob without Joseph present, as if his favorite son had become a dream. Jacob did not know whether Joseph was alive or dead, much like he wasn’t sure about the dream’s veracity. The three pairs of dreams were divinely inspired as alluded to at the very beginning of Jacob’s dream with the word מָּק֥וֹם appearing three times in one sentence.

Ultimately, the fourth condition, to “return safe to my father’s house,” was the reunion between Jacob and Joseph. When Jacob heard that Joseph was alive his spirit was awakened, as if from a deep sleep (Genesis 45:27). It was then that God reappeared to Jacob – at night again – to go to Egypt to reunite with his son and that God would return him to the promised land. (Genesis 46:1-4)

That action brought the entire family together, and had Jacob – now Israel – believe in God’s promise, setting the future for the children of Israel.

The first dreamer was awe-struck but doubted the dream’s authenticity, setting conditions to accept God. That action set in motion the life of Joseph and the history of the Jewish people.

Related articles:

3 1 4, Hebrew Pi

The Karma of the Children of Israel

The Descendants of Noah

The Place and People for the Bible

Humble Faith

Ten Good Men

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

The Nation of Israel Prevails

Letter To Send To Liberal Members of Congress Attacking Yeshiva University

On September 23, 2022, six liberal members of Congress wrote a letter to Yeshiva University denouncing its decision to not officially recognize a LGBTQ+ club. The letter is full of inaccuracies and fuels anti-religious hatred at a time that anti-Semitic crimes are already at record highs.

Penned by outgoing Congressman Mondaire Jones, and cosigned by Representatives Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), it contends that Yeshiva University prohibited the formation of a Pride Alliance Club which is completely false. The club already exists. YU just did not give it official recognition as it runs counter to the school’s religious mission.

Below is a letter to send to each of the members of congress, whom you can contact by clicking their names here: Mondaire Jones; Adriano Espaillat; Paul Tonko; Carolyn Maloney; Jamaal Bowman; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If you do not live in their districts and cannot email them, you can still call them.

LETTER TO MEMBER OF CONGRESS:

I could not disagree more with your letter to Yeshiva University, both in tone and summary of your impressions on the matter.

1. The school does not discriminate against any student, counter to your claims. There is no team, club, class, event or any activity that is available to some students and not others. It is a disgraceful slur to state that the school does not treat some of its students “as full human beings.”

2. There is already a Pride Alliance at the school. There is membership and events that have been going on for years. The school took no actions to ban the group.

3. The existing group asked for official recognition by the school, which the school declined to do – as it does for all groups that run counter to its beliefs as a religious institution. That is not selective discrimination against the LGBT community. It would have rejected a Cheeseburger Club as well. It is outrageous for a member of Congress to suggest, let alone dictate, how and what a religious institution can approve and sanction.

4. The courts sided with the Pride Alliance solely because it does not believe that YU is a religious institution and thinks it a secular one. The fact is that YU is non-binary, being both religious and secular, a situation that does not fall neatly into the legal charter boxes. It is a position that members of the LGBTQ+ community should understand.

5. This case has nothing to do with discrimination but the government’s refusal to recognize the religious character of a leading Jewish modern Orthodox institution. Your letter feeds a false narrative targeting religious Jews as discriminating against LGBT students and fuels anti-Semitic sentiment which is already at terrible levels. In fact, it is the government that has refused to recognize the university’s non-binary status, and now you are attempting to dictate how a religious institution should operate.

I urge you to amend your statement as your actions are impacting the entire modern Orthodox community. Please read the following article for a better understanding of the situation, rather than glossing information from anti-religious media. https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2022/10/02/yeshiva-university-and-modern-orthodoxy-are-non-binary/


LETTER MEMBERS OF CONGRESS SENT TO YESHIVA UNIVERSITY

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman

President

Yeshiva University

500 West 185th Street

New York, NY 10033

Dear Dr. Berman:

Over the past weeks, we have followed the Supreme Court’s rulings affecting LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University who wish to form a peer support club, the YU Pride Alliance. Many of these students are our constituents.

We write to express our support for these students and for the rights of all LGBTQ+ students to equal treatment in New York State’s educational institutions. We urge the University to do everything possible to care for its LGBTQ+ students as full human beings in the campus community, including to recognize their student group. 

We understand the LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University seek to form a student group that provides a safe space for discussion and connection. Research confirms that LGBTQ+ students face discrimination, isolation, higher rates of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and other challenges as they navigate their college years. Gay-straight alliances and student-led clubs that provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students to support each other and discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity are critical to student health and success. Other proudly religious universities in New York have navigated this terrain, recognizing LGBTQ+ student groups as a critical resource for their students; it is time for Yeshiva University to do the same.

We are disappointed with the University’s recent decision to suspend all student groups in order to avoid recognizing the YU Pride Alliance. This move pits students against each other and risks further isolating LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University. We also believe this action to be in tension with your recent statement that Yeshiva University’s “commitment and love for [its] LGBTQ students are unshakeable.”

As members of Congress representing New York, we believe that the equal treatment of LGBTQ+ students and the provision of safe spaces for their well-being are consistent with established federal public policy. We know our concerns for the well-being of LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University are shared by many who care deeply about the institution—Jewish clergy, University faculty, alumni, current students, and local elected officials.

We encourage the University to extend its hand to its LGBTQ+ students, and their allies, who have bravely come forward telling you what they need to flourish as students and community members at Yeshiva University. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Yeshiva University – And Modern Orthodoxy – Are Non-Binary

Yeshiva University is in a lawsuit with some of its gay students in a case about discrimination that rose to the Supreme Court, and is hurting its reputation among progressives. Yet the case has nothing to do with discrimination, as it is about the inherent non-binary nature of modern Orthodoxy, something the progressive and LGBT community should understand.

A Modern Orthodox Institution

Yeshiva University is the flagship university of modern Orthodoxy in the world. Founded in New York City in 1886, the school has grown considerably, and now consists of three undergraduate schools – Yeshiva College for Men, Stern College for Women, and the Sy Syms School of Business – and numerous graduate schools.

While the entire university operates under a mission statement of providing an excellent education coupled with strong ethical and moral values, the undergraduate schools have a particular dual curriculum which stresses “the timeless teachings of Torah“, the Hebrew Bible and associated texts. The students learn Talmud, Mishnah, the Old Testament, the Prophets and various other texts for several hours every morning before focusing on secular studies. The long morning sessions are often rounded out by students with “night seder“, where they continue to study the ancient texts.

All of the discussions and classes are done through a modern Orthodox lens. Even beyond the school walls, the school posts old and new classes (shiurim) online on its YUTorah.org website for students, alumni and others. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchick (1903-1993) has 525 classes on the site and Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein (1933-2015) has 465. The rabbis are all modern Orthodox, many of whom were ordained at the university’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), its rabbinical school. The school even has a rabbinic placement office where it places rabbis in modern Orthodox schools and synagogues around the world.

The school acts as much more than a school for young Jews: it is very much part of the global modern Orthodox world.

No one questions the religious orientation of the school. Its mission statement is clearly laid out: “At Yeshiva University, our mission, Torah Umadda, is to bring wisdom to life through all that we teach, by all that we do and for all those we serve.” The phrase, “Torah Umadda” means Jewish commandments together with worldly knowledge. The term is emblazoned on the university’s logo in Hebrew, atop an outline of a Torah.

All Backgrounds Are Welcome

While the school is modern Orthodox, it does not limit admission to only Jews of that denomination. The Judaic part of the program has four tracks, enabling the students to find a level of study appropriate for their background and interest. For example, the James Striar School is designed “for students less familiar with Hebrew language and textual study.

Students who attend the school typically come from modern Orthodox high schools and families but not exclusively. All of the students understand that regardless of their backgrounds, the school is run as a modern Orthodox institution. For example, while some students may not be strictly kosher in their homes, they will only find kosher foods in the school cafeteria. Even if they do not observe the Sabbath in their homes, they will be expected to do so in the dormitories.

The students have a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities which specifically calls out freedom of expression, association and from discrimination:

  • Students have the right to examine and exchange diverse ideas, consistent with the mission of the University, in an orderly, respectful and lawful manner inside and outside the classroom.”
  • Students have the right to associate and interact freely with other individuals, groups of individuals, organizations and institutions in a manner that does not infringe on the rights of others or interfere with the mission of the University.
  • Students who are otherwise qualified have the right to participate fully in the University community without discrimination as defined by federal, state and local law.

As seen in the selection above, students’ rights are protected, as long as they are consistent with the mission of the university, which is infused and directed by the modern Orthodox interpretation of the Torah. That is further qualified by being able to participate in the community, without discrimination as defined by U.S. law.

LGBT Students

As described above, all students are welcomed at the university. The YU student body does not exclude people because of race, religious denomination, sexual orientation, disability or any other feature. The school has LGBT students and faculty and everyone is allowed to participate in all activities. There is no activity that is open to straight or cisgender students that is not available to others.

The LGBT students at Yeshiva have a club called the Pride Alliance. It is a student run club that decided it wanted to become an officially recognized club by the university, which would enable it to have a small budget and access to email addresses and school facilities. The school declined to give the club official status because it viewed the club’s mission as not in concert with the university’s mission as a modern Orthodox institution. It would have denied officially recognizing the club if straight cisgender students applied for the LGBT club as well. The university rejected the club, not the students.

As there is no bias against any individual in the university, there is no basic argument for discrimination. Any claim for discrimination would therefore rest on an argument that the university singled out the LGBT club while permitting other similar clubs to get official recognition.

Club Recognition and a Torah Mission

The university mission rests on the modern Orthodox interpretation of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. The list is commonly broken down into 248 positive commandments (like honor one’s parents) and 365 negative commandments (do not commit adultery).

The 365 negative commandments include many related to idol worship, to defiling the Temple and religious holidays, financial matters and sexual relationships. The school does not endorse any club that runs afoul of these negative commandments.

For example, if students asked for official recognition of a shatnez club (garments made from wool and linen), the school would decline based on the Torah (Leviticus 19:20). If a group of students wanted to arrange a ghost and sorcery club, the school would have blocked its establishment (Leviticus 19:32, 20:6, 20:27). Similarly for cross-dressing (Deuteronomy 22:5) and various forms of incest (Leviticus 20:10-21).

Some progressive members of the Orthodox community argue that the prohibition in Leviticus 18:22Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence,” relates to male-male sexual relationships only, and has nothing to do with lesbians or passively being gay. As such, the school should allow the club if it abstains from discussing or promoting gay sexual relationships.

That solution is problematic on multiple levels.

The school does not monitor student clubs. Should it allow the club but insist on monitoring it, that action could actually run afoul of U.S. discrimination laws, as the school would uniquely be singling out the club for oversight. If the university just allowed the lesbian club at the women’s school, it might also run afoul of discrimination according to U.S. law, allowing a club for one gender but not the other.

The university’s approach has been to follow the same guidelines it expects from its students: “to associate and interact freely with other individuals, groups of individuals, organizations and institutions in a manner that does not infringe on the rights of others or interfere with the mission of the University.”

Is Yeshiva University Religious or Secular?

The legal case about discrimination seems very straight-forward, which begs why the courts did not dismiss the case quickly in favor of the university.

In June 2022, New York Judge Lynn Kotler said that the university is chartered as a secular organization and is therefore subject to the city’s human rights law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court also said the university offers too many secular degrees to qualify for religious exemptions, and therefore the school must recognize the LGBT club.

Kotler is technically correct that the school did check off the secular box in its charter. However, the choice before the institution was binary, either secular of religious. Had there been a third choice of both, the school would definitely have chosen that, as consistent with its mission of Torah Umaddah, Jewish religious teaching and worldly knowledge.

The non-binary position of YU should be abundantly recognizable to progressives and the LGBT community. The LGBT Foundation has a page on its website for “Non-Binary Inclusion.” It is used for individuals who do not feel that the discrete choices of male/female apply to them: “Non-binary people feel their gender identity cannot be defined within the margins of gender binary. Instead, they understand their gender in a way that goes beyond simply identifying as either a man or woman.

In a similar way, while secular Jews feel comfortable with the ‘secular’ label and ultra Orthodox / Haredi Jews like to be called ‘religious’, the modern Orthodox community does not fit neatly into either camp. It is both at the same time.

That fact is abundantly clear to the courts which are taking the narrow view of how the institution chose to designate itself according to the U.S. courts’ rigid charter choices, rather than acknowledging the reality that YU is both secular and religious, and cannot be compelled to officially recognize a club that is not in keeping with its reading of religious texts.

Progressive Activists Within Modern Orthodoxy

While the courts should be expected to ultimately understand the non-binary nature of YU, the LGBT students at YU know this better than anyone. Not only were they enrolled in an institution that lives the combined worlds of secular and religious everyday, many of the students live with their own duality of their sexual orientation within the university’s particular duality, like nested matryoshka dolls.

While it is undoubtedly understood, the progressive modern Orthodox community is looking to break the LGBT taboo.

While many non-Orthodox rabbis have begun to recognize gay weddings over the past few years, almost all Orthodox rabbis still do not officiate. Some progressive modern Orthodox rabbis have been trying to dance the line, congratulating gay couples from the synagogue bima, and some attend the wedding services, even when not officiating, in an attempt to welcome the individuals.

By pushing this matter in the courts, the LGBT and progressive communities are trying to force the entire modern Orthodox community to officially recognize the legitimacy of their relationships. It is a outcome that some in the modern Orthodox community are comfortable doing on a secular basis but almost all cannot on a religious basis.

Even more immediate and pressing, a great many socially-conservative members of the modern Orthodox community are appalled that the LGBT students have gone to the U.S. courts to force such a matter, and the progressive members of the community are angered at YU’s stance, as they would like to see a change in the community to accept such unions.

The New York and/or the Supreme Court will most likely decide in favor of YU in this case and that discrete matter will be settled. But the Jewish community must get past their internal anger and grievances on this topic, and appreciate that the modern Orthodox community is itself non-binary, and afford the rabbis and religious institutions the same grace and space it readily gives to non-binary individuals.

Related articles:

Pride. Jewish and Gay

Leading Gay Activists Hate Religious Children

US State Department Will Not Promote LGBT Human Rights In The Middle East Outside of Israel

Judaism’s Particularism Protects Al Aqsa

There can be only one.

Highlander (1986)

In the 1986 film “Highlander”, immortal demi-gods roam Earth, interacting with people but caring mostly about other immortals. They live knowing that they must confront others like themselves and battle to the death, because in the end, only a single one can exist.

Monotheistic faiths often behave similarly.

Adherents of Christianity, Islam and Judaism have fought each other for supremacy. Many wars demanded death or conversion. As it related to places, the victor often took over holy sites and either demolished them or changed them to the winner’s religion, demonstrating superiority of their God.

Consider the Hagia Sophia in today’s Istanbul, Turkey. The building was originally built as a church around 537CE. When Ottoman Muslims conquered the city in 1453, they converted the church into a mosque. It remained so until the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, when shortly thereafter, the secular Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum. In the summer of 2020, Islamist Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan converted it back to a mosque, angering much of the western world.

Christianity and Islam battled for superiority in Europe and in the holy land for centuries. From 1095 to 1291 the church waged several crusades. The demand for armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem set the region on fire, with the paltry number of Jews in Europe and holy land left as victims on both sides.

When Christians ultimately failed to take Jerusalem, they turned to purge the Jews and Muslims of Europe. Various edicts preceded and followed the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492 and in Portugal in 1497. Thereafter, Muslims were effectively routed from the peninsula, virtually completely by early in the 17th century.

Polytheists fought with monotheists as well. When Alexander the Great came to the Jewish holy land, he Hellenized the region. When the Romans came a few hundred years later, they destroyed the Second Jewish Temple and installed pagan gods. They renamed Jerusalem and the region in an attempt to vanquish the monotheist Jews.

Jews however, have uniquely not waged religious wars. While Christians and Muslims have long histories of invading lands and forcing people of different faiths to convert, Jews have no such imperative.

The reason is quite simple and completely misunderstood by non-Jews. While most religions contend that their belief system is supreme and that adherents to other faiths are either an affront to their god(s) and/or are doomed to damnation, Judaism is a particular faith, not a universalistic one. It does not demand that people of other faiths convert or that they are damned. It was always designed to be a local religion in the land of Israel for a specific tribe – the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Other faiths are free to worship as they desire.

The notion seems conceited to many and has sometimes led to anti-Semitism.

How can a supreme God produce a bible just for one community? If that were true and others want such relationship with God, they need to become the new Jews. This replacement theology placed Christians as the successors to Jews through Jesus. Islam held much the same, replacing Christians via their prophet Mohammed.

The Jews contend that they didn’t supplant any faith nor have they been supplanted. However, they do object to their religious places of worship being destroyed.

While Christians and Muslims may seek to place the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa Mosque on top of the Jewish Temple Mount to show that their faith is supreme and replaced the old, Jews have no such dogma. There is no desire to “supplant”; just to have their own place of worship once again.

The Old City of Jerusalem including the Jewish Temple Mount/ Al Aqsa Compound. The Dome of the Rock has the gold dome in center right. Slightly below it is the al Aqsa Mosque with a gray dome.

Today, Islamic fanatics shout that “al Aqsa is in danger” to foment a jihad against the Jews. It is based on tenets not found in Judaism but in their monotheistic faith. Jews simply want to pray on the Temple Mount and rebuild their temple, but not to confront or show superiority to Islam.

The sentiment is captured in the Jewish Bible in a section read on the eighth day of Passover, in the book of Isaiah. While Isaiah 11:6 is famous, reading through to ninth sentence captures the fuller message:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

That “holy mountain” is the Jewish Temple Mount. It can house the monotheistic faiths that believe in peace and coexistence. “The wolf will live with the lamb” will occur when the world’s great religions internalize their common bonds and stop fighting each other for dominance. Together, “they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” enabling the Third Jewish Temple to exist beside the al Aqsa Mosque.

The Islamic false perception that al Aqsa is in danger is rooted in its own conception of religious superiority and how it is manifest. When Muslim leaders internalize that Judaism has no such ethos, hopefully it will welcome the building of the Third Jewish Temple and help realize the vision of the prophet Isaiah.

Related articles:

Pros And Cons Of Muslims Considering Jewish Holy Sites As Sacred Also

Al Jazeera’s Lies Call for Jihad Against the Jewish State

The United Nations’ Incitement to Violence

Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

The UN’s Disinterest in Jewish Rights at Jewish Holy Places

Tolerance at the Temple Mount

The Jewish Israeli Rosa Parks

Passport Purim 2022

When Mordecai and Esther
Sent letters to provinces,
The joy of the wild jesters
Was unknown to Purim novices.

Persian Jews were elated
To escape the genocide,
And so went out and raided
The complicit countryside.

Today’s celebration’s muted;
No one’s seeking redress.
The pandemic’s concluded,
We’re thinking – more like recess.

A full two years since lockdowns,
The first remote megillahs.
Now experts at Zoom drop downs;
Squares seared in our retinas.

The first was away from shuls
The second one, wearing masks,
At last, costumed without rules
And toting unconcealed flasks.

It’s time to refresh passports –
Plan for family travel.
This basket is a crash course
Albeit tiny and facile.

Pesek Zman from Israel
And Scottish shortbread
Make taffy seem trivial
Americans’ tummies misled.

Beer from south of the border
And Italian biscotti,
Will make you pack your converter
To flee ale from Milwaukee.

There is something from the Swiss
And Kit Kats from America.
Alas, no hominy grits
Despite trips to Florida.

Wishing you health and free time
To enjoy the holiday
No Shaloch Manot from Prime
It’s the season for getaway.

Related articles:

Purim 2020, Jewish Haikus

The Place and People for the Bible

By the eleventh chapter of the Bible, it appeared that mankind had reached perfection. United in time, place and purpose, the whole world appeared ready to accept the word of God. Yet God rejected this model of the human race, and instead opted to give his holy texts to a sliver of the world in entirely inverted circumstances. The message embedded in the choice is as timeless as it is important.

The Tower of Babel and the State

About 300 years after God destroyed the world in the flood, “the entire earth was of one language and uniform in words.” They assembled together in “a valley in the land of Shinar” and decided to make bricks to “build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens to make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the earth.” (Genesis 11:1-4)

This Tower of Babel was an incredible accomplishment. Ten generations – from Noah through Abraham – lived in this city and tower. The people were not just “of one language” but coordinated in a common goal. To a modern reader, this situation appears too good to be true – mankind working constructively to build a place where everyone could live together. It seems so aspirational that it puzzles the reader as to why God was upset and said “Lo! they are one people, and they have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do? Come let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion’. And the Lord scattered them from upon the face of the earth and they ceased building the city.” (Genesis 11:6-8)

To appreciate God’s objection, biblical commentators compared this generation to that of the flood.

The Bible states that God destroyed the world in the flood because of “חָמָֽס” (Genesis 6:11) which is translated as ‘robbery’ by Rashi and the Ramban. While at first, robbery doesn’t seem so terrible a crime worthy of destroying a world, it does invite a reader to imagine the nature of such society.

If the world operates on the basis of theft – that the ownership of personal property has no inherent meaning – people prioritize stealing over work. In such environment, a person will invest his or her efforts in how to take the fruit, cattle or spouses of their neighbor rather than engaging in the actual work of cultivating such things. There would be no effort in saving or developing anything as it could be stolen, making people live for the day rather than invest in the future. Such a world cannot mature nor endure.

The society that built the Tower of Babel had a different notion about personal property. Rather than one person stealing another’s belongings for themselves, they collected it for the state. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik said “the generation… had a strict political code. The were not weakened by abundance [like those in the Flood]…. They were aggressive in undertaking, bold in design, and arrogant in execution. The ideology of Marxism as interpreted by Lenin and Mao Tse Tung could not have been better portrayed than in these verses.

Rabbi Solveitchik combined two principles in his critique of this society – one led by an authoritarian leader and one based on Socialism. He criticized this society that “tried to create a new social world order. In order to realize this ideal, they destroyed individual freedom, dictating to everyone what to do and how to live.” People can see this at play today in the alt-left’s efforts to institute a new social order under the marketing banner of the common good as it advocates for “canceling” those who break with their orthodoxy while they attempt to redistribute personal property.

Rampant robbery for personal gain that existed before the Flood was obsessed with the indulgence of living in the moment and needed to be wiped out as it destroyed the possibility of long-term development. The seizing of personal property for the state during the Tower of Babel, needed to be disrupted as well. God had previously directed Noah and his children to “be fruitful and multiply upon the earth” three times (Genesis 8:17, 9:1 and 9:7) and instead they constrained themselves to a small valley, thereby limiting their progeny and directed their efforts to building man-made structures rather than cultivating the land for personal use.

God “came down” (Genesis 11:7) to this authoritarian socialist society and did not see an ideal society worthy of receiving his holy words, and decided to “confuse their language” and “scattered them from there upon the face of the earth, and they ceased building the city.

Which makes one consider the society that actually did receive the Torah.

The Tower of Babel and Mt. Sinai

God handed the Ten Commandments to a very different society in a very different place. Mount Sinai and the Tower of Babel could not be more different:

Mount SinaiTower of babel
Natural mountainMan made structure
Located in remote desert away from peopleCenter of the world with all humanity
In the afterglow of the Exodus and destruction of Egyptian armyIn the shadow of the destruction of every living thing in the Flood
Only Moses ascended the mountain and the Israelites barred from approaching itThe entire world inhabited the tower
God “descended” to Mt. Sinai to see a man he had spoken to before who had followed his commandGod “descended” to find a society which ignored the direction he had given to some of them (Noah and his children)
Laws given to a single man to teach to a single tribe over timeLaws not given to the entire world at a moment in time
That tribe was scared and acting out, looking for leadership as the commandments were being given to MosesThe world was working seamlessly in concert, building their man-made city and tower which didn’t need a God as it reached the heavens via the work of its own hands

When God dispersed mankind in the year 1996 after Creation, He set in place the ability for humanity to follow his command to “be fruitful and multiply upon the earth” but simultaneously made engaging with everyone more difficult, as God’s preference for speaking to one person at a time would require multiple prophets to interact with local communities and tribes, even as the miracles would capture the attention of the whole world.

As noted above, God opted to give the Ten Commandments to a people who were just freed from slavery and eager for leadership and a new society. This was in sharp contrast to the people on the Tower of Babel who may not have been receptive to taking upon themselves the word of God, having seen the impacts of global devastation. Consider that they decided to build their city and tower in a valley. They were highly confident in their own abilities to reach the skies, almost as a further insult to God as they didn’t want any advantage from the natural world.

The Shortened Life

The dispersion had ramifications beyond the change in language, the abandonment of the tower and setting in motion the establishment of nations around the world. The lifespans of people dropped considerably as well.

Peleg, a descendant of Shem, died during the dispersion. Curiously, he was either named with prophesy as the name was derived from the Hebrew word for dispersion, or he was renamed at his death כִּ֤י בְיָמָיו֙ נִפְלְגָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ (Genesis 10:25).

Peleg died when he was 239 years old, considerably less than his father, grandfather and great grandfather who were 464, 433 and 438 years old, respectively. The reduction of 225 years of Peleg’s life relative to his father is the numerical equivalent of the word scattered in Hebrew “הֱפִיצָ֣ם” (Genesis 11:9). From this day on, the lifespan of people continued to decline – all the way to 120 years old, the lifespan of Moses, the great teacher of the Torah.


There are people today – like Senator Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Socialists – who view the idea of collective global action on behalf of a powerful state that shuns religion as an ideal to be pursued. The Bible clearly instructs otherwise, as conveyed in the short story of global unity at the Tower of Babel.


Related First One Through articles:

The Descendants of Noah

Kohelet, An Ode to Abel

The Jewish Holy Land

From Promised Land to Promised Home

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Elul and the UN’s Durban Conference

The Hebrew month of Elul is the last month of the year and traditionally marks the beginning period of repentance in the Jewish calendar. It is on the first day of the month that the prophet Moses ascended Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, and forty days later, on Yom Kippur, when he descended and broke the tablets when he saw the Children of Israel worshipping beside a statue of a golden calf.

To mark the period of repentance, rabbis instituted a tradition of reciting Psalm 27 at the end of morning and evening prayers. It is a call for God to protect Jews from their enemies.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of UN Durban Conference and the attacks of 9/11 which both occurred during Elul, and how governments and people choose to commemorate those events, two sentences in the psalm deserve deeper exploration. Sentences 11 & 12:

ה֤וֹרֵ֥נִי יְהֹוָ֗ה דַּ֫רְכֶּ֥ךָ וּ֭נְחֵנִי בְּאֹ֣רַח מִישׁ֑וֹר לְ֝מַ֗עַן שֽׁוֹרְרָֽי׃ Show me Your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my watchful foes.

אַֽל־תִּ֭תְּנֵנִי בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ צָרָ֑י כִּ֥י קָמוּ־בִ֥י עֵדֵי־שֶׁ֝֗קֶר וִיפֵ֥חַ חָמָֽס׃ Do not subject me to the will of my foes, for false witnesses and unjust accusers have appeared against me.

While the Psalm is set up to seek God’s protection from armies (verse 3), the lines above highlight that enemies include those who wish to undermine Jews with slander. The “watchful foes” scrutinize every action and then bear “false witness” with accusations that seek to seriously harm Jews as they enter the high holidays.

The United Nations, a body conceived of to promote peace and reduce bloodshed, has become a platform for “false witnesses and unjust accusers” which lambast Israel. UN Watch noted that in 2020, the UN General Assembly passed 17 resolutions condemning Israel, while passing a total of six against the rest of the world.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said that the “farce at the General Assembly underscores a simple fact: the UN’s automatic majority has no interest in truly helping Palestinians, nor in protecting anyone’s human rights; the goal of these ritual, one-sided condemnations is to scapegoat Israel.

United States Secretary of State Colin Powell said much the same as he withdrew from the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa on September 3, 2001:

Today I have instructed our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to return home. I have taken this decision with regret, because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that the Conference could have made to it. But, following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, I am convinced that will not be possible. I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of “Zionism equals racism;” or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world–Israel–for censure and abuse.

Flyer at 2001 World Conference Against Racism with a picture of Adolf Hitler with caption “What if I had won?” and continued that there would be no Israel nor bloodshed of Palestinians (source UN Watch)

The United Nations has promoted and given legitimacy to the “watchful foes” of Jews – both around the world and in the United States, at governmental levels, among lay leaders and ordinary citizens – to promote vicious slander against Israel and the Jewish people. As those lies are becoming mainstreamed, it is time to stop reciting Psalm 27 quietly but “with shouts of joy, singing and chanting,” (verse 6), for God to cause these evil people and organizations to “stumble and fall” (verse 2).


Related First One Through articles:

Rep. Ilhan Omar and The 2001 Durban Racism Conference

The Anti-Zionist Lexicon – Vilifying Israel

B.D.S. Is Not A Social Mission Action

The Global Intifada

Hamas’s Willing Executioners

The Veil of Hatred

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Judaism’s Blessings and Curses

In 1935, German composer Carl Orff set 24 Medieval Latin poems to music, in a collection known as Carmina Burana. The first and most famous song, O Fortuna, has been used in several movies including John Boorman’s Excalibur. It describes fate both like a moon and a wheel, ever waxing and waning, and having ups and downs. Change is constant. Sometimes you’re high and sometimes low. In the end, life is like a landscape painting where the best moments are captured by the mountain peaks and the lowest points disappear in the valleys.

The peaks and valleys seen from Tzfat, Israel (photo: First One Through)

Judaism has a different perspective. Rather than considering highs and lows, it sees blessings and curses. The contrast can best be seen in a biblical story of the Israelites in the desert.

In Numbers 22, the kings of Moab and Midian call upon a famous non-Jewish prophet named Balaam to curse the Israelites, as the kings were nervous that the Jewish people would take over their land. Balak, the king of Midian, said to Balaam “Come then, put a curse upon this people for me, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land.” (Numbers 22:6) When Balaam prepared to do so, God asked Balaam the nature of the request, and he said that Balak had said “Here is a people that came out from Egypt and hides the earth from view. Come now and curse them for me; perhaps I can engage them in battle and drive them off.” (22:11)

Rashi, the medieval commentator, looked at the difference in how Balaam referred to Balak’s request and said that Balaam actually wanted to drive the Jews from the world, not just the land of Moab, since he hated them more than Balak. While Rashi focused on the word “וְגֵרַשְׁתִּֽיו” to arrive at his opinion, one can also consider the highlighted text above “hides the earth from view,” (וַיְכַ֖ס אֶת־עֵ֣ין הָאָ֑רֶץ). The hidden parts are the valleys where people cannot be seen. It is typically when a person or people are most vulnerable – the lowest part of the wheel, to use the metaphor in O Fortuna. That a lowly people could be so powerful to defeat the Amorites and Og, the king of Habashan (Numbers 21) perplexed the prophet. It unnerved his worldview, so he hated them.

God forbade Balaam from carrying out the task, “Do not go with them. You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.” (22:12) But eventually Balaam does go to to see the Jewish nation per Balak’s request, and arrives at a place where “he could see a portion of the people,” (22:41) as he was in the heights and Jews were spread out in the valleys.

Balaam told Balak that he could not curse those who God would not curse. These people have an inner strength beyond the ups and downs of life, “As I see them from the mountain tops, Gaze on them from the heights, There is a people that dwells apart, Not reckoned among the nations.” (23:9)

Balak was angry with Balaam’s non-curses and considered that a better position and angle might elicit a more satisfying curse. Balak brought him to a few other mountaintops where he could see the entirety of the Jewish nation (23:13-14, 23:28) but it made no difference. God had blessed these people, even as they sat motionless in the valleys “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!” (24:5). Balaam had internalized that blessings and curses could happen at any station. He had broken the wheel.


Judaism has a different view of life beyond the motions of up and down; it considers states of blessings and curses. As a characteristic, they can exist in different situations and can even coexist at the same time. It is a dynamic which has incensed anti-Semites for millennia but also brought joy to those who bless the Jewish people in good times and bad.


Related First One Through articles:

The Karma of the Children of Israel

Kohelet, An Ode to Abel

Prayer of The Common Man, From Ancient Egypt to Modern Israel

Ruth, The Completed Jew

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Bitter Waters and The Jerusalem Flag Parade

When the Children of Israel were walking through the desert on their way to the Jewish holy land, they complained to Moses that they lacked good food and drink (Numbers 20:1-13). God commanded Moses to take his staff and to go with his brother Aaron to gather the people and speak to a rock to produce water. Moses grabbed his staff and instead of speaking to the rock, he hit it with his staff which shot forth water. Despite producing the desired result of delivering water, Moses and Aaron were punished with not being able to enter the Jewish promised land. The site became known as Mei Merivah, Bitter Waters.

On its face, the difference in Moses’ action seems minor, hitting versus speaking to the rock. The end result was that water came out and the Jews were happy. It begs the question why God punished Moses and Aaron so severely.

When God commanded Moses to take the staff when he stood before the Jewish people, it was to show that he was acting as an agent of God. The staff was a symbol of Moses acting on God’s behalf. However, Moses used the staff as a tool with which to strike the rock. The Jews witnessed Moses producing the water with his strike of the implement upon the rock, rather than internalizing that God had produced the water. Yes, the Jews got what they wanted but they attributed the benefit solely from the hands of Moses and Aaron rather than acknowledging the actual source of the blessing.

Mistaking a symbol as a tool goes on in Israel today as well.

Jerusalem Day is a wonderful celebration which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem which had been divided when the Jordanian army invaded and illegally annexed half of the city. For 19 years (1949-1967), the Arabs forbade Jews from living, visiting or praying in the Old City and at the Jewish Temple Mount and Western Wall. The anti-Semitic edicts changed in June 1967 after Jordan attacked Israel again but this time lost, a true cause for celebration by human rights activists everywhere.

During the Jerusalem Day festivities, some Israeli nationalists have a Flag Parade where they march through the streets of Jerusalem, including the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, waiving Israeli flags as they demonstrate that the area is under Israeli sovereignty. The group often taunts the Palestinian and Israeli Arabs as they sing the Israeli national anthem and practice their Arab curse words.

Like their ancestors of 3,300 years ago, the Children of Israel got what they want but sometimes miss the important message: the Israeli flag and national anthem are symbols of Jewish sovereignty once again in their holy land. To use them as tools to provoke Arabs undermines the blessing.

The reunification of Judaism’s holiest city should be marked on holidays and every day with Jews walking, praying, learning and living in every corner of Jerusalem. Proudly wearing Jewish symbols and speaking holy words will enable all of the Children of Israel – including Moses and Aaron – to be present in Judaism’s eternal capital.

Israeli flag at the Kotel (photo: First One Through)

Related First One Through articles:

The Dark Side of Jerusalem Day: Magnifying the Kotel and Minimizing the Temple Mount

The Green Line Through Jerusalem

I Understand Why the Caged Jew Sighs

Not Remembering, Forgetting and Never Knowing

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The Anthem of Israel is JERUSALEM

Aliyah to Israel (music by The Maccabeats)

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3 1 4, Hebrew Pi

The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is represented in mathematics by the Greek lower letter Pi. To visualize this relationship, consider using a string to make a circle, and then straighten that string to run right across the circle through its center. The ratio of the length of the entire circle to that straight diameter line is pi, constant regardless of the size of the circle.

pi, or 3.14……

Beyond the geometry, people are drawn to this figure for other reasons. The number, when represented as a decimal goes on forever. People have used modern computers to take the number out to a trillion decimals! The first numbers 3.14159265359… are often abbreviated as 3.14.

Pi can also represent fertility. A circle is often used to represent women, such as in genealogy tables. Women were likely given the circle (as opposed to men who are denoted by squares) because of the roundness of their bellies while pregnant. Meanwhile, lines are used as a connection to spouses and offspring.

pedigree table, with women represented by circles

Pi represents the intersection of these ideas – women, generations, an infinite line and constancy. They all come together in the matriarchs of the Hebrew Bible.

Genesis 15:5 tells the story of God telling Abram that his descendants will be like the stars:

יּוֹצֵ֨א אֹת֜וֹ הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַבֶּט־נָ֣א הַשָּׁמַ֗יְמָה וּסְפֹר֙ הַכּ֣וֹכָבִ֔ים אִם־תּוּכַ֖ל לִסְפֹּ֣ר אֹתָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ כֹּ֥ה יִהְיֶ֖ה זַרְעֶֽךָ׃

He took him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He added, “So shall your offspring be.”

Immediately after this story, Abram took Hagar, Sarai’s maid because Sarai was barren, and had a child with her. Some years later, Sarai (then Sarah) was able to have a child, Isaac. After Sarah died, Abraham took a third wife, Keturah, and had six children with her (Genesis 25:1-2).

Abraham’s son Isaac had only one wife, Rebecca. The Jewish people continued its lineage through Jacob who fathered children through four women: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah.

This is the beginning of the promise to Abraham to have offspring too numerous to count: he had children with three women, Isaac had children with one woman, and Jacob sired children with four women: 3 1 4. Hebrew pi is infinite and constant, just like God’s promise to Abraham.


Related First One Through articles:

Abraham’s Hospitality: Lessons for Jews and Arabs

The Karma of the Children of Israel

On History and Civilization from the Bible to Columbus

Prayer of The Common Man, From Ancient Egypt to Modern Israel

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